Although a number of bills will be introduced during the upcoming legislative session, Department of Social Services insiders agree that the real battle will center around the budget and efforts to finance programs.
Gov. Norm H. Bangerter's budget recommendations for 1989-90, released in December, suggest an appropriation of $105,778,100 from general funds for Social Services, a 4.9 percent increase over the previous year.The governor's proposal also includes a 3 percent increase in public assistance grants, which haven't been raised in several years, and money to make up a $10 million shortfall in the state's Medicaid program. Although Medicaid is funded through the Health Department, without money for the shortfall, the Department of Social Services would have to pick up some of the expenses, according to Norman Angus, Social Services director.
"The (governor's proposed) budget looks good," Angus said. "We stand in a better position this year than we have in a number of years."
In addition to making decisions about funding existing programs and possibly adding new ones, lawmakers and Social Services staff must examine the financial implications of several new federal bills, including catastrophic health care and the Family Support Act. These recently passed bills each carry mandatory features that the state will have to pick up at an unknown cost, although federal matching funds are part of the packages.
The department originated several amendments that lawmakers will be asked to support. Among them:
The Division of Aging and Adult Services wants amendments clarifying confidentiality of a person making a complaint and guidelines for the release of information about that person. The purpose is to protect the name of complainants. Another amendment would establish an adult abuse registry so that background checks can be conducted on employees of nursing homes, long-term care facilities and others who work with disabled adults.
The Division of Mental Health will seek an amendment to make the division part of the interstate compact, which establishes protocol for transferring mentally ill persons across state lines. The division also wants to certify security personnel at the State Hospital as special security officers, allowing them more authority.
A number of pieces of legislation won approval from the Social Services Interim Committee and will be introduced in the upcoming session. Several of those deal with domestic violence or mental illness.
SB6, filed by David Steele, R-West Point, would require that law enforcement officers and employees or contractors with the Division of Family Services tape record or videotape any session with a child that is conducted to investigate, corroborate or evaluate an allegation of sexual abuse of the child. The tapes would be available for limited use as evidence in criminal proceedings only, with some restrictions. Proponents say the bill would protect therapists and officers from charges of misconduct or that they influenced a child's testimony.
So-called Domestic Violence Amendments would make several changes in the Spouse Abuse Act. Most notably, extending the length of time within which a hearing can be set and the time limit on a protective order. They would also make it easier to obtain a protective order because a circuit court judge could be appointed to sign it instead of only a district court judge.
A task force that over the past year studied the role of the Utah State Hospital has targeted certain populations that the hospital should serve, and lawmakers will be asked to approve them. Included are adults with severe mental disorders; children and youth; people in custody of the Department of Corrections who are mentally ill; those found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity or guilty but mentally ill; those found incompetent to stand trial; and those being evaluated to determine competency.
Another bill would provide that someone who is mentally ill and a danger to himself or others would be committed to the Division of Mental Health, rather than to a specific facility, allowing the division latitude to determine the best placement for the individual. Funding amendments, if approved, would change the formula for passing state monies to county and local mental health authorities. Instead of basing allocation strictly on population, the Board of Mental Health would give priority to persons who are severely mentally ill.